Today I welcome another of the occasional guest blogs written by my sister in Australia. This time she reflects on an unusual find near a country town in Western Australia.
A Tribute to Those That We Love by Kate Doswell
It could be mistaken for the dog that sat on the tucker box, 5 miles from Gundagai, but instead, it was a dog sitting on a small concrete plinth, 5 km from Corrigin. Corrigin is a small wheatbelt town, population 800 or so, 230 km south east of Perth in Western Australia, and the red kelpie dog immortalised in stone was guarding the entrance to the Corrigin dog cemetery.
My visit to Corrigin was nothing to do with dogs, but I couldn’t resist stopping and having a look around. It was quite large and surprisingly well kept, considering it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was surrounded by the flat dun paddocks and the dry stubble of harvested crops, and only a blur on the skyline to suggest the presence of a town.
The ground around the graves was dry and sandy, with hardly any living green, but all the graves were well tended and each was utterly distinct. The owners of these beloved dogs had used imagination and care in designing the graves, and it gave some sense of the stories that lay behind their pets’ lives with the family, and there was no doubt they were family members and friends.
A black poodle statue with surprised eyes sat on a bed of stones, and the plaque told me she had lived for 14 years. Poor Rusty had died the day after his 10th birthday, and his grave was a simple oblong, surrounded by the railings that I had often seen around human graves for those of a higher standing in the community.
The one that touched me most was that of Dexter, who had a cross formed from bricks laid on a simple slab, with a clay scroll into which a child had carved “Dexter – A dog who is missed Heaps”. It was sad to see a little stuffed puppy sitting on the grave as well, and I wondered if this had been Dexter’s favourite toy.
One dog’s family had improvised with a brass fire screen with a scene of Pointers out hunting. There was no doubt that the image on the next grave was of the dog itself, a hand painted china plate with a picture of the dog and words telling of the wonderful companionship he had given for 15 years.
There was even a multi-story grave that housed 3 successive dogs. Some people cannot face the idea of having another dog when the one they have loved for years dies, but I think most people recognise that each dog is loved for his or her own original personality. A point for writers – one of my teachers firmly instructed me that the animals in my stories (usually – well OK – always, about dogs or horses) should be referred to as it, rather than he or she. I have never been able to comply, as I know they are living, breathing personalities who deserve to be recognised as such. Maybe there would be less cruelty if we could all see them in that way, rather than as objects or commodities.
Looking around this cemetery, there can be no doubt that many people see dogs as valuable and much loved members of our families; companions, helpers, protectors and comforters. This cemetery started as one man burying his dog in the 1970s, then others from Corrigin joined him in laying their dogs to rest. Over the years it has attracted the interest of people from far afield who want a permanent memorial to their companion. So it isn’t just the people of Corrigin who feel so strongly about their animals, though this IS the town that set the record for the most number of “Dogs in Utes” – a parade of 1,527 utes ( Aussie abbreviation for utility, any vehicle with an open cargo area at the rear, which would be called a pickup truck in other countries ) each with a barking, tail wagging dog in the back.
We all have our own ways of remembering those that we love. Personally, I have never felt the need to have something tangible to remind me of a loved one – I have lost 3 dogs, and each have been cremated. I have never wanted an urn with their ashes in, though I understand and respect those that do. With my last dog, a close friend came with me to the veterinary surgery for that final visit, as she had looked after my dog many times when I worked away and loved her as much as I did. When they asked me if I wanted to keep the ashes, I shook my head, but as I did I noticed the look of dismay on her face. “Would you like them?” I asked her and she said yes. I was happy for her to have them, I could think of no better person to keep them.
I have recently lost my Mother. She was 94 yrs old and she had lived close by for many years, so it was sad to have to say goodbye. This Sunday her ashes will be placed in the memorial garden at our church, next to my Father’s ashes. There are no plaques, simply a book inside the church with the names of all those who are in the garden. When I think of my father, I don’t think of the garden, I think of the furniture he built, the advice he gave me, the funny things he said. Likewise with my mother, it is and will continue to be, the memories of all the times we had together, the laughs we shared, and the problems we talked over. It doesn’t matter whether we have a grave to visit, a plaque, or nothing solid to see. The important thing is that we remember our loved ones, human or animal. I wonder if our animals remember us after we’ve gone?